Many women travel as part of their job or for pleasure. In some cases a trip is planned to be home, or be nearer to family and/or friends for the birth of the baby. Essentially, travelling during pregnancy is not a problem, but there are a few precautions to be mindful of, especially when travelling long distances. There are also some practical considerations to think about when planning your travel.
Many women ask if they can fly during pregnancy. The answer is "yes" but you will need a plane to do it! Generally, the concerns about flying while pregnant are more related to the possibility of you having the baby mid-flight, rather than developing a health problem affecting the pregnancy. However, if you have had health complications recently (such as heavy bleeding, threatened miscarriage , premature labour or very high blood pressure) most caregivers will advise against flying, at least until the complication has settled or is well controlled. In this case, your airline may require a doctor's certificate to verify your fitness to fly.
In the past, there were concerns that women (and their babies) might not receive enough oxygen during air flights. This can be the case for small, non-pressurized planes (and you are advised not to fly in these during pregnancy unless absolutely necessary). However, during a commercial flight a lack of oxygen is highly unlikely, unless the cabin pressure unexpectedly decreases. Even then, jets are equipped with individual passenger and staff oxygen supplies to ensure you receive sufficient oxygen. Studies looking at altitude physiology for pregnant women during flight have shown that babies receive the normal amount of oxygen they require on commercial flights.
If you are planning to visit a country that recommends vaccinations or anti-malarial treatments, you will need to discuss this with your doctor. In general, vaccinations are not recommended during pregnancy, but if the women cannot avoid exposure to certain infectious diseases, then often the risks of developing the infection far outweigh the risks of having the vaccination.
Domestic flights or flights of short duration (one to four hours or so) generally have no restrictions for pregnant women flying. However, check with your airline as they may have a specific policy about this or they may place restrictions on a multiple pregnancy.
International flights or flights longer than four to five hours entail you being in the air for a fairly long period of time (long enough to give birth). Various airlines have their own policies and guidelines about restricting the acceptance of pregnant women passengers. This usually relates to how advanced your pregnancy is. Some airlines only take women up until about 26 weeks of pregnancy, while others are happy to take women until 36 weeks. Although this may be less if it is a multiple pregnancy, depending on the airline. Some airlines are open to negotiation in special circumstances, but will usually require a medical certificate.
A few airlines require a letter from your caregiver stating when your baby is due and possibly your physical fitness to fly. This may also depend on how far pregnant you are at the time of flying.
Our tips for flying during pregnancy
Whenever you travel, take your pregnancy record card with you. It has your necessary medical information and includes the results of your pregnancy tests. These may be needed if you have to consult another caregiver while away from home. Take your caregiver's (or hospital's) contact numbers in case you need to call them while you are away.
When travelling overseas, check your travel insurance coverage. Some will only insure you until a certain stage of the pregnancy (eg. 24 weeks) and others will not cover for an overseas birth. Although, Australia does have reciprocal medical arrangements with Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Italy, Malta, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands.
If possible, don't travel long distances alone.
Avoid countries with malaria if possible. Effective anti-malarial medications are not recommended during pregnancy and are only 90 percent effective anyway.
Don't plan trips to high altitudes over 3,000 metres above sea level (due to reduced oxygen to the baby).
It is fairly common for pregnant women to develop swollen, puffy feet when flying. Try to wear shoes that are loose and/or flexible or backless slip on shoes. (If you take fitted shoes off during the flight you may not be able to get them back on again.)
If you are suffering from morning sickness and/or need to pass urine frequently, ask for an aisle seat close to the toilet. This will also encourage you to move around more regularly and avoid economy class syndrome.
Drink plenty of water to keep well hydrated.
If you suffer from restless legs you may want to take some magnesium phosphate or 'cell salts' (available from health food stores) an hour or so before the flight. Massaging your calves at intervals and trying and stretch and walk a little during the flight can also help.
Babies and flying
It is possible for a healthy newborn baby to fly any time after they are born. For international flights, just remember you will need a passport and baby photo (usually with a signature on the application form from both parents - if known). You may also need to weigh up the need for vaccinations for your baby, depending on your intended destination.
The most important aspect to consider when taking a baby on a plane is equalising the pressure in the baby's eardrums when taking off and landing. This can be achieved by encouraging your baby to suck during take off and descent of the plane by breastfeeding them or giving them a bottle or dummy (pacifier) or sucking on your finger.
The plane may supply a small cradle for your baby to sleep in, or you may prefer to use your own portable bed. Ask for a front seat near an exit door or in front of the movie screen area so you have some room in front of you to place the baby's bed. Generally, you will need to hold your baby during take off and landing or through turbulence (in other words any time you are required to wear a seatbelt).
Remember to take plenty of nappies, changes of clothes, baby wipes etc. and formula and bottles if bottle feeding. Many airlines provide a 'baby kit' with a few of these essentials. Good luck with changing your baby inside the plane's toilet, not an easy task to master!
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